By Tom Karnowski, P.E., PMP, M.SAME, and Richard Stump, AIA, LEED AP, F.SAME  

The largest base relocation program in the history of the Department of Defense is virtually unheard of in the United States, as most of the cost is borne by the Republic of Korea. The Korea Relocation Program is consolidating 104 bases into two enduring hubs—the main one being Camp Humphreys, which will be home to more than 40,000 people working in 29 million-ft 2 of facilities. However, design, bi-national coordination, and construction-related issues have caused delays and unique challenges to overcome. So, while military and related personnel are now moving onto the base, the transition is about a decade later than originally planned.

Large, complex, bi-national construction programs face unique communication issues due to program governance, multiple management structures, large numbers of contractors, labor availability and quality issues, personnel turnover, and contrasting design and construction standards.

Integrating separate projects into a holistic, comprehensive construction program requires development and implementation of a well-defined governance structure and a strategic communications plan. Failure to do so adds time and money to the program as well as delay the schedule. We can learn from the experience on Camp Humphreys and other area projects and apply them to not only planned projects in South Korea, but to those in other countries outside the United States as well.


Most of the Korean Relocation Program work is concentrated at Camp Humphreys, located in Pyeongtaek, 55-mi south of Seoul. When completed, Humphreys will fill a land mass of 5.5-mi2.

The construction effort has included new roads, water, gas, sewer, power and associated treatment plants, substations and transmission lines, and the laying of 1,000-mi of communications lines, including 42-mi of trench. Work consisted of 18-million-m3 of engineered fill; demolition of 339 facilities (representing 1.9-million-ft2 of space); the pouring of 2.7 million-ft2 of concrete; and construction of 641 facilities.

The nature of the funding forced a governance structure that took several years to negotiate, with six key U.S. stakeholders, three from Korea, and tenants for 641 new facilities. The governance structure was complex, causing delays in critical decisions. The Yongsan Relocation Engineering Memorandum of Understanding alone was 457 pages long.

The Republic of Korea and the U.S. government hired a thirdparty program management consortium to serve as facilitator and ensure that communications occurred and were documented.


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has adopted five universal operating principles and codified them in the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBoK) and subsequent Project Management Business Process (PMBP). These are followed universally by USACE project managers.

What happens, however, when there is little commonality of practice in bi-national programs? There is not a PMBoK or PMBP written that provides definitive guidance in the bi-national construction arena. While the communications plans for both the Yongsan Plan and the Land Partnership Plan attempted to follow the PMBoK principles, in practical use, it turned out to be too project- and tactic-focused without incorporating a more holistic approach. It was ultimately realized that design standards and quality control are degraded or fail in a bi-national construction management environment where governance and communication are not clearly defined and developed. Although USACE and the A-E firms involved in the Korea Relocation Program attempted to adhere to the PMBoK principles, Korean firms and various contractors were not familiar with those principles and therefore, did not apply them.

For example, the hospital that is under construction must meet U.S. standards for accreditation. The Korean contractor was unfamiliar with U.S. specifications and the U.S. designer of record provided drawings that referred to those specifications without plan sheets providing details. For comparison, if the U.S. designer provides a 400-sheet design, the comparable Korean design may be 1,000 sheets.

Project governance was conducted as if it were a U.S. program and communicated among stakeholders assuming they were intimately familiar with U.S. generally accepted craft practice. The results have been late delivery of projects, a generally acceptable level of construction quality, and cost overruns due to deficiencies in design, omissions, and construction quality.

The Korea Relocation Program is the largest base relocation effort in the history of the Department of Defense, although most of the cost is borne by the Republic of Korea.


To ensure success on large military construction programs, effective governance, communications, and quality control is essential.

Governance. On overseas projects, governance should be country-specific and include the generally accepted craft practices of the country where a project or program is planned or under construction. Complex governance structures invariably lead to confusion and antagonism. Simple governance constructs make communications easier and is especially vital as staff turns over. Autocratic leadership, at the project site, with directive decision-making authority reduces delays and time for decision making. Force decision-making to the project delivery team. Answer information requests using common sense and field engineering, when possible.

Communications. A communications plan should accept craft practices of the country where a project/ program is planned or under construction. Results and interaction may affect the alliance between two or more governing bodies. Be mindful of sensitivity to cultural norms. Good communication is based on trust. Contractors bedded down for longer periods can provide a communications bridge for rotating military staff. Keys to success include respectful communication and effective translation of written communications. Accommodate others by repeating information as needed, and be quick to reciprocate by listening and asking questions for clarification.

Quality control. Design quality control must include holistic and unified criteria for design. Designs must be applicable to the field. Design reviews must include constructability review that includes all stakeholders. Lastly, designs in an international environment must be of sufficient detail to include the cultural differences in generally accepted craft practice. For example, U.S. designers make use of typical designations on drawings and expect the contractor to develop field drawings, whereas other countries use full designs that repeat details on additional pages.


Construction quality control is based on codes for design and construction. Technicians who are trained to uniform standards can apply those as generally accepted craft practice. Contractor quality control places the burden for the quality of construction on the contractor. This approach assumes that the plans and specifications are robust, uniform and standardized. The contractor must have expertise in code compliance, adequately trained supervision and a labor force knowledgeable in generally accepted craft practice. When gaps are identified between standards, labor, training, inspections and craft practices, contractors can mitigate them with short- and long-term practices.

Be mindful of sensitivity to cultural norms. Good communication is based on trust. Contractors bedded down for longer periods can provide a communications bridge for rotating military staff.

In the short term, contractor employees need training in quality management techniques. It should be mandatory that all quality control chiefs have a current quality management certificate. And finally, increase the construction surveillance workforce to perform more inspections. In the longer term, develop a rapport between professional associations and industry to enhance training, and work with local universities to promote Unified Facility Criteria, standardized inspection procedures, and a curriculum based on the PMBoK.


Achieving world-class competitiveness in the construction industry starts at home, both in Korea and other countries.

Any strategy for successful competition in the international arena needs to be supported by an environment of quality—and it must be continuously demonstrated.

Thomas Karnowski, Ph.D., P.E., PMP, M.SAME, is Chief of the Korea Programs Relocation Office, USACE Far East District;
Rich Stump, AIA, LEED AP, F.SAME, is Client Service Manager, Stanley Consultants;

The views, opinions and findings contained in this article are those of the authors and should not be construed as official United States of America or Republic of Korea position, policy, or decision.

[Article first published in the May-June 2018 Issue of The Military Engineer]